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Suffering from cyber-chondria?

Feeling a bit funny?  Worried about those lumps and bumps?  Got a strange collection of symptoms which don’t seem to add up?  Yes you may need to consult your doctor, but you should also be prepared to be told that you are suffering from a newly identified disease which according to a recent study is costing the NHS at least £420m a year.

The study looked at the causes and effects of cyber-chondria which the researchers say could be the underlying reason for as many as 1 in 5 of hospital outpatient appointments.  As Prof Peter Tyrer, one of the authors of the study, explained “Dr Google is very informative, but he doesn’t put things in the right proportion.”

Cyber-chondria does create a dilemma for the health profession. On the one hand, we are being asked to reduce the burden on the NHS by self-treating minor ailments or consulting local pharmacists in the first instance. On the other hand, a propensity to misdiagnose the causes of symptoms following an internet search could either lead to unnecessary appointments or to patients not presenting at their GP surgery when early treatment for a condition could prevent ongoing problems.

There appears to be no one straightforward answer. And it’s certainly true that when someone presents with a range of symptoms, some may be related to a genuine ongoing illness, whilst others can be laid at the door of health anxiety. Ignore all the symptoms and the chance for early intervention can be missed, treat all symptoms as potentially genuine and hospital referrals increase significantly. So awareness and proportionality, knowing your patient, can play a significant role in sifting illness from the cyber-chondria maze.

That’s not to say that cyber-chondria isn’t an illness in its own right. Indeed the report’s authors suggest that for those suffering from acute forms of health anxiety, some form of psychotherapy may be in order. And as with any other illness; the earlier the treatment, the better the prognosis.

This approach was borne out in another field recently when the results of a back pain pilot were released.  The pilot run by a primary care service in Hertfordshire saw a physiotherapist with spinal expertise triaging and providing advice to patients who self-referred to a clinic.  With further expertise available as a back up and the ability to directly book ongoing treatment the experiment saw 85% of patients discharged after a first appointment.  Moreover, on the spot advice on exercise and rehabilitation meant that only 3.5% of patients needed to be referred to secondary care as opposed to a 12% GP referral rate.

The main message which arises from studies such as these is the importance of early intervention when treatment is required.  In a health system which is seeing an ever increasing demand for its services this isn’t always easy. However, even little tweaks to processes and procedures can make a measurable difference to boosting patient treatment times. Even something as simple as SMS text messaging which reminds patients to attend appointments can not only boost early treatment, it can also ensure that treatment times are fully utilised.

Of course, there are times when the chance for early intervention has been missed and the mantra ‘better late than never’ comes into play. We are indebted to the Jewish Chronicle for highlighting just how effective physiotherapy can be. Four years ago, Ann Rowe was wheelchair bound and dependent on hoisting equipment. Now, thanks to intensive physiotherapy, at the age of 87 she has completed the Parallel London 5k event.

Early treatment, late treatment, ongoing treatment; what this story and others show is that when health professionals are freed from administration and able to do what they do best, providing good and targeted therapies, great things can happen.

Time for a clear out

If you missed ‘national clear your clutter day’ don’t worry – there is still plenty of time to make a difference.  With a nod to the allegedly diminishing practice of spring cleaning, clear your clutter day on 11th March 2017 was billed as a chance to clear unwanted items either for profit or a sense of positive change.

The day’s organisers recommended using a simple four box sorting system as a way of identifying which items could be sold, upcycled, swapped or recycled. And the message wasn’t just aimed at decluttering households, businesses too were urged to join in and have a good sort out and tidy.

There were also some handy hints for those of us who may find the notion of a mass tidy-out a little intimidating.  These included breaking down the area to be tidied into manageable chunks, either by room or even by cupboard or drawer. If even that seems insurmountable, the organisers suggest getting into the habit of clearing one item per day. It may not seem much but over the course of the year that makes 365 unwanted items cleared out of the home or business and into a charity shop or recycling facility.

Interestingly the clear your clutter campaigners don’t stop at suggesting we declutter only physical items.  Finances and even the contents of our in boxes also come under scrutiny. For example, we may not have much control over the inward flow of e-mails but do we really need to keep all of those sent ones which merely say ‘thanks’ or ‘have a happy birthday’?  And then there is the delete box. If we have already identified an e-mail as no longer required why leave it lingering and taking up space in the delete folder?  There may be a good business reason why some e-mails need to be kept but identifying which ones we really need helps us to rethink our business priorities as we clear.

Other suggestions include sitting down with all that paperwork which is cluttering up the office or home and having a good sort out.  Whilst there is some paperwork which needs to be kept in physical form (property deeds or passport come to mind here) there is much which could be scanned and filed electronically.  Not only does that declutter the office, by making use of a good indexing system it becomes much easier to find documents quickly when needed.

This is a practice which health professionals are increasingly adopting for patient records.  Electronic filing is safe and secure and not only allows for instant retrieval it also helps to speed up treatment in cases where records may need to be shared across different specialists.

When it comes to decluttering finances, there are a few simple things which you can do which can make a measurable difference.  Here again having paperwork and outstanding invoices lying around can add to stress levels so moving to electronic system could make a difference to the way in which finances are approached. Keeping a simple spreadsheet will help individuals to identify when key bills are due whilst for businesses moving to a form of electronic payment can smooth cash flow.

For example, healthcare providers such as physiotherapists or chiropractors may wish to consider taking card details at the time of appointment booking. Not only does this help to smooth cash flow; having provided card details patients are less likely to miss an appointment, particularly if a no-show fee is clearly highlighted on the appointment terms and conditions.

Busy lives make it all too easy to let clutter build up. We may intend to clear this when we’ve done that but then something else comes up and the clearing never gets done.  Taking time to step back and re-evaluate can force us to stop and not only clear but also plan a less cluttered future.

Planning The Working Day

In our earlier article ‘Mobile data – changing lives’ we commented about the global sleep crisis and the way in which our sleeping patterns are changing in response to societal pressure. Now another study has raised some interesting insights into the effect which getting up early may have on our lives.

Commissioned by Hillarys Blinds, the survey examined whether work patterns and outcomes were different for those who got up before and after 7am.  Interestingly, the research revealed that average salaries for the 37% of respondents who got up before 7am amounted to £36,500 whilst average salaries for those arising later came in at £21,300. Early risers were also likely to have had more jobs than those getting up later; eleven for early risers against five for late risers.

On the negative side, when asked what they did first thing in morning, those getting up before 7am are most likely to turn their attention first to work tasks. What is not clear from the study is whether this means that getting up early in order to work results in obtaining a higher salary, or whether higher salaries naturally come with the downside of a higher workload.

Either way, unless the early start also comes with an early finish, those putting in excess hours at the beginning of the day simply in order to stay ahead would do well to reappraise their working practices. For those in health practices who need to stay mentally sharp in order to best help their patients, cutting down on excess working hours is not only recommended but a necessity. And there are plenty of options available to those who want to work smarter rather than harder.

Let’s start with client appointments. Admittedly you are unlikely to be returning client calls at seven in the morning but are you stuck doing early paperwork because so much of your free time during the day is taken up with appointment calls? Simply by offering an online booking service or switching calls to a virtual assistant service can mean that your diary is taken care of whilst you take care of your patients.

And what about patient notes; do you really have to spend all that time in filing notes from the previous day and in searching out patient details for today’s set of appointments? By moving to an electronic filing system your patient notes are there at the touch of a button; adding precious time to your day and clearing paperwork out of your office at the same time.

Of course, with cash flow being the lifeblood of any business you could be getting up early in order to raise and send out invoices for the previous day’s appointments. Or, you could adopt an electronic card payment system which takes payment details at the time of booking and automatically collects payment once the appointment is over. The other advantage of this service is that it enables you to take a fee even in the event of no-shows, making your time more productive. And if you want to cut down further on no-shows then sending out appointment reminders by SMS text linked to your booking service is a good way of helping to ensure that patients either attend or cancel in good time, thereby enabling you to rebook the appointment slot.

Even if you are a natural early riser there are much better ways to be spending the early hours of the morning, other than work. Get some exercise, listen to or play some music, take photographs of the dawn…; in other words spend your time getting yourself mentally and physically fit for the day. You will benefit, your patients will benefit and in the long run your business will benefit too.

Contact us today to discover how Clinic Appointments can help your clinic. Book your free demo call now to learn more.